I’ve got the travel bug…and, luckily, I conduct an adult community choir filled with plenty of women who feel the same way I do about seeing the world. So many countries, so little time.
In the four years since I founded the Bucks County Women’s Chorus we’ve embarked on two international tours. The first took us to Northern Italy in 2014 and the second to Budapest, Vienna, and Salzburg this past spring. Each trip had its special rewards and its unique challenges, and we certainly learned a lot about traveling with a choir with an average age of about 60-65.
As far as performance tour companies are concerned, my choir is rather an oddity. Many of them work primarily with high school and college musical ensembles, though most have had some experience with adult choirs. Nonetheless, to truly organize and pull off a tour that’s older adult-friendly, tour organizers need to listen closely about the limitations of the group and must consider a variety of issues as they craft the itinerary. Only then will you have a tour that fits your needs and makes your singers happy.
Here’s what I found to be the most important considerations when organizing a tour for “my ladies”, many of whom are already avid travelers but are largely used to touring at their own pace.
- Is your destination travel-friendly for older adults? In other words, will they be exhausted by the terrain (note: remind me to tell you about our day in Venice) and the demands of traveling in that particular location? Also, keep in mind issues such as if your buses can get close to the venues for your concerts/activities or if a long walk is required. Ask if there are ample places to rest during walks or other recreation. All these answers can help you decide whether you’re considering the right tour destination for your older choir.
- Is there enough downtime built into the itinerary? Look at the schedule for each day and compare sitting time to active time. If you’re going strong for more than four hours at a time, you may need to do some rearranging. Also, try not to stuff too much into one tour. On our first trip, we packed Verona, Venice, Florence, San Gimignano, Siena, Lucca, and Rome into 8 days. Too much, too fast! Not only were we exhausted but we never truly got to know any of those places.
- Is your tour guide/manager familiar with the needs of an older choir? This is a biggie! On our trip to Italy our lovely manager was a young woman who seemed not to be in tune with what was required to lead an older group through the rough terrain of Italy. While she was vibrant and excited and we all grew quite fond of her, we often found her literally two blocks ahead of us and simply couldn’t handle her pace. On our most recent trip, the tour manager – a young man of about 30 – seemed to understand that we had to make more bathroom stops, needed more time to get from one place to another, and required some extra pampering. (He even brought us cookies and other treats and travel books for our longer bus rides.) The result was a very happy group of travelers and a very large tip for the manager.
- Do the restaurants offer plenty of alternatives? With an older group, you’re more likely to encounter individuals with dietary constraints such as the diabetic, the person who is on a low-salt diet, or the vegetarian. Ask to see the menus for those who need special attention to determine that they’re not getting the short end of the stick, with meals that are less than appetizing.
- Are the hotels suitable for more discerning tastes? For adult choirs, you may need to increase the budget for hotels a bit. My choir – while not at all spoiled – wants a comfortable place to stay that includes some nice amenities. For example, our hotel in Budapest – the Radisson Blu Beke – gave us a killer buffet breakfast each morning and offered a beautiful restaurant and bar as well. Also, ask for hotels in the city center, whenever possible, which makes it easy for your singers to wander out of their own during free time without having to worry about public transportation.
- Are your concerts organized strategically? Older singers need some recovery time before launching into a concert. A day of travel demands some rest time afterwards when you’re over 50. Don’t plan a concert for your first tour day and – certainly – don’t plan one for the last either, when everyone is exhausted and ready to pack up and head home.
A lot of the things we did wrong on our first trip were corrected on our most recent tour, thanks to a tour company that truly took time to get to know us as they were penning the itinerary. Did we slip up here and there? Probably, but the joy of traveling together, singing for international audiences, and getting to know each other intimately far outweighed the mistakes. Now we look back at the photos and laugh, we remember the applause and smile, we recall the beauty of the places we visited and the people we met and a tear forms in the corner of our eye.
And even if our ankles swell to three times their normal size, chances are we’ll do it all again.
Patricia Guth is the Founder and Artistic Director for the Bucks County Women’s Chorus in Holland, PA. More information about Pat and her singers can be found here.